I had a baby three days before Covid-19 hit Indiana. This proves that having a baby under normal circumstances is not something I know how to do anymore. (For all who may be unfamiliar with the circumstances, refer to Lucy Jean’s birth story.)
James Steven decided to arrive in typical chaotic fashion.
Image taken from “The Seven Silly Eaters,” by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee
I want to write, but three in children in four years has tuckered me out.
Instead of words, there are toy horses hiding in the corner of my room mocking me, Will you let me sit here and stare at you while you think and ponder and write or will my presence so unnerve you that you are forced to return me to the third-floor playroom, and, in so doing, be distracted by half a dozen other things calling your name?
I let the horse sit and stare at me.
My days are filled with sorting toddler underwear and trade negotiations over favorite toys. (In the middle of writing this last sentence, the voice of my four-year-old trickles down the stairs, just as I’m settling in with my blanket, after a day of birthday shopping, writing for my paid job, toting children to and from school, lawn mowing, dish washing, and bath giving.)
Our house was covered in dust when I went into labor.
It was two weeks before my due date and during the previous month, we had been living in a construction zone, pending a renovation of our kitchen and upstairs bathroom. Plastic draped our doorways, floors, and furniture. Every morning, I would spread a covering over the top of our bed and down the length of our dining room table table, each anticipating a fresh dusting of drywall before they would be unrolled for our evening rituals.
Three days after I found out I was dilated three centimeters, I was eating a pumpkin waffle and sensed a tingling on the right side of my tongue. Two days later, it felt as if the entire right side of my face was going numb. A stroke!? the frenzied side of me freaked. Instead, it was Bell’s Palsy, a somewhat rare virus that temporarily weakens the muscles on one side of the face and is three times as common in pregnant women. It would likely disappear in a few weeks, but in the meantime I was told to rush to an eye doctor to make sure there was no damage to my cornea, because, of course, I couldn’t close my eye now without the help of my hand. Also, the doctor recommended, maybe best not to keep living in the Dust Bowl of 2017.
“I was sitting in a strip cell, angry, no clothes … acting crazy, spitting on guards,” says Russ Kloskin, soft-spoken and pensive.
The man‘s articulate, gentle demeanor makes it hard to imagine him as a former leader of one of the most violent organized crime machines in Texas‘ history.
Up until 2000, Russ would have blamed his behavior on his rough lot in life. Growing up in some of the Midwest‘s biggest cities, little Russ would steal clothes off of clotheslines, nab groceries—anything to avoid the next foster care placement or children‘s home, while his teenage mother roamed the streets looking for her next fix.
When he was a preteen, they moved to Houston where the drugs and violence were constant—at home and on the streets. Russ turned to the streets to escape an abusive stepfather and soon joined the ranks of Houston‘s homeless youth. Then it was on to juvenile facilities, reform school, and ultimately on to prison at age 15 for an armed robbery.
A few years into his incarceration, Russ was put into a cell with Joe, a ”big biker guy” who took a liking to him and decided to take the young man under his wing. Turns out Joe was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist group that is responsible for many of the murders in the federal prison system. In the Brotherhood, Russ found everything he thought he always wanted—family, belonging, sense of self-worth.
Over the next several years, Russ moved up the ranks of the gang as he committed acts of violence. In 1996, he and his “brothers” hanged a man in his cell. Russ and his comrades were “deemed a threat to the safety and security of the institution” and sent to solitary confinement units in different prisons across the state.
Sometimes it takes going to prison to get closer to the reasons behind life’s biggest “Why?”
I have always asked the “Why,” the one I wish I didn’t care so much about. The one you’re supposed to leave to mystery. The one that will drive you mad if you go at it too long. God, why do You allow—even perhaps ordain—evil things to happen?
I have heard stories of little girls abused at the hands of those who should be their protectors. I have met women who lost their children to the machetes of crazed neighbors. I know children who were chucked to the streets because of a system run by rulers who couldn’t find room for them.
Sometimes the “Why?” takes different forms, but often it comes back to this deeper question: God, are you good, really good?
Mostly He speaks to my soul that I must trust that He is. But sometimes He peels back the curtain and gives a merciful drop of respite in the land of faith. Less in an answer of explanation, but in an answer of His passion—pain and tears and scars.
The first day Darryl Brooks entered Prison Fellowship®’s Academy at the Carol Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, he was wearing the standard DOC-issued white scrubs. Today, when he walks through the doors, he usually wearskhakis and a dress shirt. It’s the typical attire for the director of the program.
Small Town Highs
Crosby, Texas (a town of just a few thousand) wasn’t exactly a hotbed of excitement, so Darryl and his buddies learned to create their own. At 10, he started using marijuana, selling it to others by junior high. Dad wasn’t around,
so Mom worked two jobs to support her 12 children. Darryl was the youngest.
“I was practically raised by my siblings,” he explains.
He graduated from high school in 1987, but with no one to help him plan for his future, it was up to him to create it—or try to destroy it.
Darryl still remembers the first time he tried crack cocaine. He and his best friend were cruising the streets of their tiny town, drinking, and his friend handed him his first smoke.
“Anything that was going to take me up, up there, I was gonna try.”
After that, he descended deeper into the drug scene, and eventually found himself in court.
It was a year of becoming family. A boy and a girl learning to be brother and sister; and mother and father learning to be parents of two. It was a year of abundance and cacophony, family dinners with food on faces and the floor. It was a year of learning new languages and asking questions—about origins and superheroes.
This article was first published in Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal.
We knew his face long before he saw ours.
Three years ago, we saw his picture for the first time. An 18-month-old toddler with no known parents and no known name. From the other side of the world, we gave him a name. We became his parents. He became our son.
And three years later, when he was four-and-a-half, we held him in our arms for the first time. The little boy we had known all along finally started getting to know us—his “Mommy” and “Papa.”
It is a story of adoption. It is a story of the lost being found. It is a story about God.
This article was originally published in Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal.
Pauline Rogers’ first experience in a court room was testifying about her father’s murder. Then just 9 years old, Pauline had watched her mother shoot him.
“I helped her put him in the car,” she admits. “He died en route to the hospital.”
The court ruled it a case of self-defense, and Pauline’ mother wasn’t convicted.
After that, “my mother became a workaholic … she was never around,” Pauline explains. And as a young girl growing up on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, Pauline began taking responsibility for her 10 younger siblings.
They were so poor, she explains, that she would look in the newspaper to find out which churches were having funerals. She would dress up her siblings and take them to the church, where they would always find a meal.
It wasn’t long before she began stealing simple things to help provide for her family, like a bag of rice, meat, or hair bands.
I used to think that Christmas was the happiest time of the year—the time when all your longings of the previous year would find fulfillment, when all the sadness would evaporate, when all of your blahs would culminate in inexpressible happiness. I used to think that Christmas was the joyous celebration of Christ coming and filling all of us with perfect satisfaction and contentment.
I am learning that that is not quite true. Actually, not true at all.